Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles.” Well, I now jokingly call Thailand the “Land of Salt” since living there for over a month this year. When you are just traveling for a few weeks, it almost doesn’t matter what you put into your system. It’s short lived, so yes, you are going to eat every single street food out there. Can’t recognize that meat? Who cares, it’s delicious. Want to order a bowl of goodness just because Anthony Bourdain said it was awesome. Yep.
So whether it’s the fact that I’m getting older or the fact that I’m traveling long term, or a combination of the two, I just can’t eat like that. No reader, I’m not over the hill, but I am old enough to know now that there is some truth to the old saying that you are what you eat.
Sadly…I am not street food.
I always expect my insides to turn into a three ring circus when I travel, but once I landed in Thailand this trip, it only took me a few days to know that this circus wasn’t sustainable for weeks on end. Have you ever heard of salt coma? It’s a food coma. It’s like the turkey induced coma you can get on Thanksgiving, but it’s due to the sheer amount of salt in the food instead of tryptophan. Soy Sauce, Fish Sauce, Oyster Sauce, a little MSG, and your generic NaCl are practically in every single Thai dish out there. It is what makes everything taste AMAZING. What’s not amazing, is having to take a nap after every meal.
A girl has got to eat, and unfortunately a girl has got to stick to her budget. For anyone that has visited Thailand and Chiang Mai specifically, you will know that you can find every type of cuisine out there. The problem is that those western styled restaurants can be pretty expensive.
Now you’re probably thinking that this must just be me and my reaction. Just so you don’t think I’m crazy here, the Thai government initiated a plan in 2013 to reduce the amount of salt found in foods in a hope to curb the 17.5% of the population that suffered from chronic kidney disease. That amazingly high and outrageous number was taken from the 2010 census. I haven’t been able to verify how well their efforts have helped the health concern. However, the fact that almost 1 out of 5 Thais suffer from kidney disease should be proof enough that you need to watch your salt intake if staying in country long term.
I haven’t found much online about how expats eat and negotiate the salt laden markets in Thailand. I also am in denial about being the only person that feels the effects. So I am going to share with you what I’ve found that has helped me.
So, can a non-twenty something that has realized they aren’t immortal live in Thailand and survive? YES! You don’t have to give up street food! BONUS!
Here is the trick – You need to cook and you need to watch which street food dishes you are ordering,
Check out the post on grocery shopping in Chiang Mai here.
Cooking your own food is by far the easiest way to control what goes into your body. Ingredients are readily available for many familiar and healthy foods. I tend to fall into the following pattern when traveling. Eggs for breakfast, sandwich for lunch (tuna, egg, PB & J) and then dinner is out. If dinner is at “home,” then that depends on the kitchen that is available to me. If you have the ability to boil water, you are in great shape. Sure sometimes it would be great to be able to cook roast beef and bake Yorkshire pudding, but as they say, you’ve got to dance with the one you’ve brought. Step one – evaluate kitchen and utensils. Step two – learn what ingredients are available to you. Step three – Find someone to have dinner with and cook. (Cooking is always more fun if its for more than just one person.)
So what about the street food??? You can control it. If you limit your intake to one meal a day, you will probably be in the clear (despite the salt intake being above what we typically here recommend.) One of the coolest parts about Thai food, is that you are served a base dish, then you customize it to your liking. For example, you will order Kraw Pao (Ground pork with basil and chili) and then you can mix in chili sauce, oyster sauce, Pad Prik (chilies in fish sauce) etc based on how you like it. My rule of thumb is this – never add anything that you would describe as “sauce.” I get to add all the veggies I want and leave off the extra salt.
My go-to Street foods are as follows and are described using the “appropriate technical terms”
- Quail Eggs (without adding oyster sauce),
- Smoothies of every single type
- Corn on the cob
- Chicken on a stick (avoid the fish – pure salt)
- 5 baht sushi (looks like sushi, but really……not so much)
- Shish Kabobs
- Banana filled crepes
- Northern Thai Sausage (salty, but OMG!)
Have you had to find a work around to be able to enjoy your favorite countries?? If so, I’d love to hear about them.